No, they're not back, but they are in the news.
Or specifically, in a podcast.
Noted hymenopterist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, shed light on the giant insect in an interview with urban entomologist Michael Bentley on his BugBytes podcast. Click here to listen.
Bentley serves as the director of training and education for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), headquartered in Fairfax, Va., and hosts NPMA's BugBytes. Kimsey, a global authority on wasps, bees and other insects, is a two-term past president of the International Society of Hymenopterists.
They talked about the history of the hornet, its biology, its range, its behavior, its stings, and the news media frenzy.
Basically, two incidents occurred in North America last year. A single colony of the Asian giant hornet (AGH), Vespa mandarinia, was found and destroyed Sept. 18, 2019 in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, Canada, and a single dead hornet was found Dec. 8, 2019 in nearby Blaine, Wash. “There is no evidence that there are any more hornets in the vicinity of Vancouver or anywhere else on the West Coast," Kimsey told us in a BugSquad piece published on May 5.
Concerned beekeepers, however, worried that the hornets could become established and decimate their hives. Subsequently, entomologists from the Department of Agriculture and Washington State University urged folks to be on the alert and report any sightings.
Suddenly, citizens throughout the country reported seeing scores of "murder hornets," which turned out to be yellow jackets, European paper wasps, hover flies, hoverflies, moths and even a Jerusalem cricket (potato bug). Entomologists fielded all kinds of questions--and still are. Stephane De Greef, a Belgium-born entomology advocate, traveler, field guide, and photographer, called the frenzy "a bloody dumpster fire." He launched a fun (and informative) Facebook page, Is This a Murder Hornet?"
In the podcast, Kimsey relates that the Asian giant hornets are native to Asia, where the residents tolerate them. The beekeeping industry in Washington state, however, was "convinced that they are killing our honey bees," Kimsey told Bentley. "There's no basis in reality as far as I can tell," she said.
The Asian giant hornet is "one of about a dozen or so species in this genus," Kimsey said. She described them as "comically large and menacing looking."
The specimens in the Bohart Museum of Entomology are about 1.5 inches long. "I've never seen one two inches long. But it's a big animal--no question about it."
Bentley also discussed entomologist Justin Schmidt's Sting Pain Index, which rates the painful stings of some 83 hymenopteran species.
Kimsey agreed that the Asian giant hornet "can deliver a lot of venom" and "can sting repeatedly." But in her opinion, "the honey bee sting is the worst."
Other points Kimsey brought out included:
- The Asian giant hornets probably arrived here in cargo ships
- The larvae and pupae are restaurant-fare in some parts of Asia and are quite the delicacy
- The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in fewer cargo ships arriving in the United States from Asia, and thus fewer opportunities for hitchhikers.
Be sure to listen to the educational and entertaining podcast for the details. Or as NPMA wrote: "Where did the Asian giant hornet come from, has it become established in North America, and what threat could it pose to the U.S.? Get answers to these and many more questions in this episode featuring famed hymenopterist, Dr. Lynn Kimsey, as she dispels myths and rumors about this interesting insect."
Related Bug Squad blogs:
- About Those Asian Hornets (May 4, 2020)
- The Hornet Wars: 'A Bloody Dumpster Fire" (May 5, 2020)
- How Do You Say Murder Hornets? Delicious (May 8, 2020)
Matan Shelomi, former graduate student of Lynn Kimsey's and now an assistant professor of entomology at the National Taiwan University in Taipei, Taiwan, enjoys them.
- Incredible Work, and Timely, on 22 Species of Hornets (May 12, 2020)
Are you counting down until the much-awaited Virtual Moth Open House, hosted by the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology?
The free and family friendly-event is set from 1 to 2 p.m., on Saturday, July 25, coming to you live on the Bohart Museum's Facebook page. You don't have to have a Facebook account to watch the program.
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Bohart's Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) collection, will display moths, talk about moths and answer your questions.
And it's all in keeping with National Moth Week.
Curious as to how he pins and spreads the moth and butterfly specimens? Be sure to check out Sarah Stinson's newly recorded video in which Smith demonstrates how to Pin and Spread Moths and Butterflies. The link is on the Bohart Museum's home page.
"I've been managing the butterfly moth collection for the last 32 years," he says. "And much of what I do has to do with spreading the wings of butterflies and moths so that they're ready and available to be identified."
You'll learn about spreading boards, pins, forceps, and yes, why you should use kitty litter. And you'll learn why you should keep "little bugs" away from your specimens "before you get around to working on them."
"I've done these spreading demonstrations for many, many groups including the (UC Davis) entomology club," he relates. "And as I tell them as I start, I'm going to show you how simple this is. But the first time you do it, you're going to be very, very frustrated."
Smith, who was singled out for the prestigious Friend of the College Award in 2015 by the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is in one word: "incredible." (See news story)
He makes it look easy. It's not.
"Personally, I am astounded by the thousands upon thousands of butterflies and moths that Jeff has prepared for display or scientific study," research entomologist Tom Zavorink, a Bohart Museum associate, told us. "This is no small task because butterfly and moth specimens are usually brought from the field in envelopes or boxes with their wings folded over their backs or around their bodies, and preparing them for display or scientific study involves relaxing them in a humid chamber so their wings and legs can be manipulated, carefully spreading open the wings, positioning them on a flat surface, and securing them in that position until the specimen dries again. This is an onerous task that many entomologists, myself included, shun because we don't have the time, manual dexterity, or patience it takes to prepare quality specimens."
At the Virtual Moth Open House, there's an extra bonus: learn how to set up a blacklighting trap to collect night-flying insects. (See previous Bug Squad blog)
The Bohart Museum is directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, and is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. It houses nearly 8 million insect specimens, and about 500,000 of them are butterflies and moths. The museum also houses a live petting zoo (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas) and an insect-themed gift shop, stocked with T-shirts,jewelry, books, stuffed animals, posters and insect-collecting equipment. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, the museum is temporarily closed until further notice.
Are you the moth and the insect museum is the flame? Or are you the flame and the insect museum is the moth?
Either way, it promises to be fun, fast-paced and educational.
The free and family friendly event, held in observance of National Moth Week (July 18-26), will take place from 1 to 2 p.m. (Pacific Time) on Saturday, July 25 on Facebook Live (Bohart Museum Facebook page).
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the 500,000 Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) collection, will show specimens and answer questions.
"Due to circumstances, the annual Moth Night at the Bohart Museum of Entomology will be a 'virtual tour' this year, and we hope it offers the same fun and interest as in past years," said Jeff Smith. "In addition to a live video tour of one of the aisles of moths in this huge research collection, we also will have video on how to set up equipment for attracting moths at night, the most productive time for observing these nocturnal animals. A new addition will be video on how to 'spread' the wings of moths and butterflies, an important step in preparing Lepidoptera for research and study."
Want to know just how impressive moths are?
"The live portion of our virtual tour will be spent in the collection itself, and we will show and talk about some of the most impressive moths in the world, including the Death Head Sphinx Moth, the highly toxic Slug Moths, and the largest moths in the world, the Atlas Moths," Smith said. "There will be examples of some of the many species of wasp mimic moths in the families Erebidae and Sesiidae, a hummingbird moth with a proboscis, its feeding tube, that is nearly 12 inches long! We will show the extraordinary Sunset Moth from Madagascar with its splash of amazing and metallic colors on its wings. There will be Black Witch and White Witch moths with wingspans up to 1 foot across. The diversity and beauty of moths easily rivals that of the better known butterflies."
Want to know how destructive some moths are?
"In addition to the moths known for their attractive appearance, we also need to show some of the destructive kinds, including the Gypsy Moth that has destroyed millions of acres of forest in the U.S., tussock and tent-worm moths that can defoliate entire trees, and the California Oak Moth that ravages oak trees along the California coast," Smith said. "There are moths with wingspans up to 12 inches and others so small you need a microscope to observe them."
All in all, this is a wonderful and diverse order of insects, Smith said, "and we hope everyone will join us on July 25th, for the 2020 Open House at the Bohart Museum of Entomology." Smith was named a 2015 "Friend of the College
by the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
The Bohart Museum is directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. It is headquartered in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane (but temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic). The insect museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million insects, as well as a live "petting zoo" (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas) and a gift shop stocked with insect-themed clothing, jewelry, posters and books, as well as collecting equipment.
Some folks request a "spider alert" because they cringe in horror when they see an image of the eight-legged critter.
Even a little charmer like this one?
On Tuesday morning, July 7, we watched a crab spider claim a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.
UC Davis Professor Jason Bond, a noted spider authority and the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, Department of Entomology and Nematology, identified it as "a mature male, likely a Missumessus species (Thomisidae, crab spider). He's a bit lighter in coloration than I might expect--probably recently molted to maturity."
This little charmer peered at us, figured we were no threat to his well-being, future predatory plans or life goals, and struck a few "Arnold Schwarzenegger poses."
Then he vanished like yesterday's dreams, today's plans and tomorrow's promises. Haven't seen him since.
No doubt, however, he's still there, hanging out and targeting unsuspecting insects, including green bottle flies, aphids, tachinid flies, cabbage white butterflies, spotted cucumber beetles, and yes, an occasional bee.
A pollinator garden is a good place to "bee" when you are a predator.
Frankly, spiders are fascinating, they are beneficial, and they are our friends. We ought to appreciate them more.
In a recent Bug Squad blog, we asked Professor Bond for five good reasons to like spiders. He obliged:
- Spiders consume 400-800 million tons of prey, mostly insects, each year. Humans consume somewhere around 400 million tons of meat and fish each year.
- Spider silk is one of the strongest naturally occurring materials. Spider silk is stronger than steel, stronger and more stretchy than Kevlar; a pencil thick strand of spider silk could be used to stop a Boeing 747 in flight.
- Some spiders are incredibly fast--able to run up to 70 body lengths per second (10X faster than Usain Bolt).
- Athough nearly all 47,000-plus spider species have venom used to kill their insect prey, very few actually have venom that is harmful to humans.
- Some spiders are really good parents –wolf spider moms carry their young on their backs until they are ready to strike out on their own; female trapdoor spiders keep their broods safe inside their burrows often longer than one year, and some female jumping spiders even nurse their spiderlings with a protein rich substance comparable to milk.
“Spiders are an incredibly diverse group with more than 50,000 species described with probably another 200,000 remaining to yet be discovered,” Bond related. “They are quite ancient, with fossils dating back well over 300 million years and are known to be exclusively predatory.”
Stay tuned for an upcoming virtual open house on spiders hosted by the Bohart Museum of Entomology and featuring Professor Bond. It's free, family friendly, and questions are encouraged.
Meanwhile, the Bohart Museum will be hosting a Virtual Moth Night Open House from 1 to 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 25. Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moth) collection, will discuss and show moths and answer your questions. Tune in on the Bohart Facebook Live page. It also will be recorded for later viewing.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a three-year collaborative research grant to five faculty members at Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas, and to Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
All the tardigrades collected by Baker University's faculty and students will find a new home at the Bohart.
“Our part in all this is to act as a repository for all of the specimens collected,” Kimsey said. “We have one of the four largest collections of tardigrades in the world.”
The NSF awarded $256,849 for the project, titled “Cross Departmental Development of an Automated Species Identification System for the Phylum Tardigrada Found on Birds.” Collaborating with Kimsey are Baker University faculty members Scott Kimball, associate professor of biology; Randy Miller, director of research; Robert Schukei, assistant professor of computer science; Mahmoud Al-Kofahi, professor of physics; and Irene Unger, associate professor of biology and director of the Baker Wetlands.
"We thought we had a great project and were thrilled the award committee agreed to fund the full scope of our project," Kimball said in a press release. “Our group will engineer an automated process of preparing microscope slides of tardigrade specimens collected from any of several sources. The second objective is to design a species identification software application that will use computer learning processes to create efficiencies in the identification of specimens. All of this will be used to answer biological questions related to the geographic dispersion of tardigrades, specifically as it relates to the relationship between tardigrades and the birds in their environments that may serve to disperse them across the landscape."
The Bohart Museum's tardigrade current collection includes some 25,000 slide-mounted specimens. In a recent newsletter, Kimsey described the water bear as “one of the most peculiar and indestructible groups of animals known. The microscopic and nearly indestructible tardigrade can survive being heated to 304 degrees Fahrenheit or being chilled for days at -328 F. And, even if it's frozen for 30 years, it can still reproduce." See video on EurekAlert.
They belong to their own phyllum, the Tardigrada (meaning "slow steppers"), and to date there are some 1,500 described species throughout the world. "Tardigrades can survive high pressures of more than 1,200 atmospheres found in the bottom of the abyss," Kimsey says. "They can tolerate 1,000 times more ionizing radiation than other animals."
In appearance, the pudgy water bear seems as cuddly as a teddy bear. It has a barrel-shaped body and eight pudgy legs. The adults usually range from 0.3 to 0.5 mm in length. German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze (1731-1793) first described the critters in 1773, referring to them as "kleiner Wasserbär," or "little water bears."
They're easiest to find on lichens and mosses, Kimsey says, but they can also be found on beaches, in the subtidal zone, freshwater sediments, soil, hot springs and even on barnacles. They've been found "high in the Himalayas to down in the deep sea and even in the interior of Antarctica,” Kimsey said.
They mostly feed on plants or bacteria "but some are predators on smaller tardigrades," Kimsey related. “They use the stylets in their tubular mouth (snout) to pierce "individual plant or bacterial ells or small invertebrates."
Why is the water bear so indestructible? In research published in 2016, geneticist Takekazu Kunieda and his colleagues from the University of Tokyo found that the water bear expresses a tardigrade-specific protein that binds itself to DNA. This acts like a "shield against x-ray radiation, preventing the DNA from snapping apart," according to an article published in Gizmodo.
Said Kimsey: "Tardigrades are awesome. They can dry out completely and then become immortal. In fact, SpaceIL may have left thousands of dried tardigrades on the moon when it crashed (in 2019)." (See news story.)
Plans call for a tardigrade sculpture to grace the entrance to the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. The artistic concrete sculpture will be about 4 feet by eight feet, about the size of a cow. A GoFundMe account, set up by the Bohart Museum Society, seeks $5000, and is at https://www.gofundme.com/f/waterbear-sculpture
"Tardigrades are really popular with kids in part because of their representation in the movies Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp, Star Trek and Family Guy," Kimsey noted.